Esei 2.


Muhammad Haji Salleh

The problem of genre as a literary issue has found very early critics in western literature, beginning as early as Aristotle.  It has been discussed over time and is still being discussed by writers like Lewalski (1986) and Beebee (1995).

          Malay literature has a different tradition of literary discourse, beginning with the oral and often clouded over by a strict feudal system. As social criticism was rare or hidden so was the criticism of genre. In early works there was only mention of the different genres of the pantun, seloka, and syair, besides the hikayat and the ceritera or cerita but not discussion about them.

          Raja Ali Haji in his Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa mentioned and defined many literary words - generic ones included. But classification proper/improper came with the British colonial scholar-officer Winstedt, who unfortunately was classifying Malay genres from the point of influence of Indian, Persia or Arab. But he has at least one serious student. It was Za`ba who in his Ilmu Mengarang Melayu (first published in 1934) quite consistently found categories, to help students of the Malay language to know its rules of literary composition. While doing so he progressed over his British predecessor. His categorisation was based on form and structure, and sometimes mixed into functions, when these two did not help differentiate enough.

          It is natural to categorise, to classify, in order that one may focus better and study similar things in their own categories, based on family resemblances and common features. And there is no doubt that from the point of view of the authors themselves,  to a certain extent, they too approach their task of writing  within the parameters of the established genres. This is easy enough, as the main problems and initial work have been solved by earlier users. But it must be said too that genres are mere guidelines to certain rules and qualities of the many forms used in literature.

          What are the genres of Malay literature? Harun Mat Piah et al (1993) in their Kesusasteraan Tradisional Melayu,   have named them as follows:

Sastera Rakyat

Sastera Hikayat

Sastera Panji

Sastera Epik

Sastera Sejarah

Cerita Nabi-nabi dan Tokoh-tokoh Islam

Sastera Kitab

Sastera Undang-undang dan Ketatanegaraan

Kepustakaan Ilmu Tradisional.

For poetry alone Harun (1989:38-39) has found these terms





5.Pantun Seloka



8.Kata adat

9.Perbilangan adat




13.Bahasa berirama


15.Peribahasa berirama

16.Peribahasa berangkap

17.Prosa berirama (prosa lirik)


19.Dikir (zikir)

20.Jampi dan mantera














34.Puisi-puisi sukuan.

          However, eventually Harun used only 12  as the basic forms Malay poetic expression: pantun , syair, nazam, gurindam, seloka, teka-teki, peribahasa berangkap, teromba, talibu, prosa berirama dan prosa lirik, mantera, dikir, as they are more discernible with clear differences.

          From the evidence of literary texts we know that there are the main genres like poetry, prose and drama. Here the division overlap with the western. But the similarities perhap stop here, the  borders are unweildly and on a closer look, we know that these are mere generalised  categories.

          In Malay literature there are many that may not be defined or measured against the western ones. The makyong, the theatrical story that has actors moving in circles or into scene, complete with songs and dance and action is a mixed genre. It  not a stage play, neither is it a musical. We do not even have words for it in the language, what more in English. So is the ritual curing ceremony of the main puteri, where a cure is effected through poetic words and gestures, and accompanied by a whole orchestra. So  is  the wayang kulit (puppet theatre - another unique form that defies category - as it too contains music, the art of making leather puppets, songs, rituals etc.)

          Another complicating element and division that of the  oral and written, and to further blur categories many of the elements of both are present in the other category too. This may be seen throughout its history,  in fact even into the present. Thus Sulalat al-Salatin and Hikayat raja-raja Pasai, two written historical works have elements of the oral in the songs, the dialogue and the formulaic scheme of composition.

          But it is also true that  while there are generic  parameters that help the author in his composition like the hikayat, syair,and  pantun, in the act of narration proper  genres are mixed -- elements from various other genres are employed to enhance  the effect and quality of the work.


          Thus in the oral narratives   one finds poems, stock phrases, dialogues, verse capping session, teasing and so on. In written historical works  there are pantuns, legends, anecdotes, genealogies, tales etc.

          In the syair sometime we find the pantuns, which in effect changes the mood, rhythm and musical quality of the syair. Look at the following for example:


            Tajuk mahkota melur bersunting

            Tara mahkota berayun sunting

            Berkembang bunga kemunting

            Dung-dung uma ayun tinting.

            Berjalan tinting lusir berlari

            Berayun tinting tangan menari

            Indah bijak Laila bistari

            Yang bijaksana Laila jauhari.

            Kalau ada gelundi pahit

            Minum serbat di dalam gelas

            Kalau ada budi yang baik

            Sepanjang hidup dapat dibalas.

A second example is excerpted from the conclusion of the  “Syair Berang-berang” now in the Bodlein, Oxford (MS Malay e. 2(R).  The preceding verses are monorhymic syair, but finally the form changes into the pantun, a popular form and highly in demand. However, it will be noticed that two extra lines are added to the pantun, making it a half- pantun and a half-syair:

                        Batang seri di dalam puan

                                    Padi di dalam bermangku nila

                        Akan berseri gerangan tuan

                                    Hati di dalam bagaikan gila


                        Padi di dalam bermangku nila

                                    Serahi di dalam puan

                        Hati di dalam bagaikan gila

                                    Sebab berahi kepadamu tuan


                        Jikalau tuan mudek ke hulu

                                    Pintakan sahaya kembang kemboja

                        Jikalau tuan mati dahulu

                                    Nantilah saya di pintu syurga

                        Berang-berang sangat berosak hati

                                    Kerana bertemu emas pelangki.

          The pantuns themselves are a great anthology of the collective creative genius. It has developed from the 2 line to the four, six, eight, ten, and even twenty. There are other forms that are based on the alif-bata-ta (the Jawi alphabet) the rejang (fortune telling through auspicious times and dates and the Pak Bongsu Membilang Malam, a narrative of a woman’s emotions aver several days.

          The pantuns themselves are present in the mantera, in the songs, the dondang sayang, the many paces of the marriage ceremonies, in speeches, in letters and also not least in love-making. The following is an exmple of the pantun in the mantera or incantation.

Pucuk perena daun perena

Ketiga dengan pucuk api-api

Baginda Ali minta guna

Siti Fatimah turun mandi.

Siti Fatimah turun mandi

Titi sampai melentuk

Siti sampai berlari

Aku minta putarkan hati si Anu

Jantung limpanya

Pulang kepada aku

Lupa makan minum

Lupa mandi lupa tidur

Tidak lupa kepada aku

Tidak lupa siang dan malam

Habis kulit dengan tulang

Baru lupa engkau kepada aku.

Or listen to this Balian curing incantation, mantera, of the  Petalangan (Tenas Effendi (tth):55), Upacara Pengobatan Tradisional Masyarakat Petalangan Desa Betung.

Anak itik anak ayam

Terbang menyisi-nyisi langit

Kecil sebesar biji bayam

Mengandung bumi dengan langit

Kota bumi selebar dulang

Kota langit sekembang payung

Duduk di tanah sekepal semula jadi

Tumbuh rumput tarung temarung

Alam besar diperkecil

Alam kecil dihabisi

Tinggal alam dalam diri

Mana alam dalam diri?

          For Malay authors it seems that genres are mere guidelines, that are quite fluid. For the dynamic author they may be combined  and recombined, mixed to help them give a mould for their talents and themes. They assist and provide alternatives rather than hinder, they inspire and please and entertain rather than bore the audience.   


Alisjahbana, Sutan Takdir

1971 Puisi Lama. Jakarta, Petaling Jaya, Zaman Baru.

Beebee, Thomas O

1995 The Ideology of Genre. University Park, University of Pennsylvania Press

Harun Mat Piah

1989 Puisi Melayu Tradisional: Suatu Pembicaraan Genre dan Puisi. Kuala Lumpur, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Mohd Taib Osman,

1975 Warisan Budaya Melayu. Kuala Lumpur, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Proyek Pengembangan Media Kebangsaan,

Tth. Antologi Sayari Simbolik dalam Sastra Indonesia Lama. Jakarta, Ditjen Kebudayaan. Dep. P & K.

Stallneckt, Newton P. dan Horst,  Frenz ed.

1973, Comparative  Literature, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press.

Za`ba, (first published 1934)

1971 Ilmu Mengarang Melayu.(Cet. Ke2) Kuala Lumpur, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Zalila Sharif dan Jamilah Haji Ahmad (ed.)

1993 Kesusasteraan Melayu Tradisional.  Kuala Lumpur, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Zuber Usman

1975 Kesusasteraan Lama Indonesia. (Cet. Ke5) Melaka, Abbas Bandung.